Early Winter


The forecast was for snow showers in the morning, then snow and rain in the afternoon. We left early and slipped up the trail with one eye on the sky. It was cold and gray. I know that it was above 27 degrees, because that’s the temperature that causes the water in my Camelbak mouthpiece to freeze. But it wasn’t much warmer than that. I had several layers of dry clothes in my pack, rain gear, a thermos of hot soup, and a new goofy wool hat knitted by mom.

The woods are silent now. Insects have vanished, and the neotropical migrants have left. The remaining birds are quiet. There was not a breath of wind, and if any jets flew overhead, clouds muffled the sound. The trail crew made plenty of noise as we shattered rocks on a short piece of newly constructed trail.

As I scurried back and forth along the blasting wire, I saw that the huckleberry leaves had mostly dropped. A hard frost curled the vine maple leaves like paper, and turned the queencup plants to transparent slime. Oak ferns were bleached pale and speckled with the beginnings of decay. A fine dusting of snow powdered the ground in the open areas. Looking up against the dark hemlocks, I could see more of the tiny crystals sifting down.

We could see the where the Lemah fire burned in August. It is smoldering away down in Delate Creek. A thin haze of smoke hangs over the valley and wafts down the trail. What smelled ominous during the summer now holds the promise of warmth.

As we hiked out, the daylight was definitely leaking away to the west. We felt lucky to have gotten through the work day without getting soaked. We were partway down Lake Cle Elum when we drove into the wall of snow that turned to rain by the time we got back to town.

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